"Soon after I started my medical studies, I was standing before a long metal table with three other medical students one day when I faced my ultimate challenge.
On the table was a long black bag with a zipper running down the middle. In the air around us, assaulting our sinuses, was the sharp chemical smell of formaldehyde. Inside the bag was a dead person -- a cadaver.
It had been assigned to our group, and we were expected to dissect it, organ by organ, limb by limb, learning by touch, sight, and firsthand experience the contours, textures, colors, and inner realms of the human body.
I had known this was coming. We all did, and everyone felt some degree of discomfort about this part of our education. The cadaver stage of medical school has been chronicled profusely. Some students name their cadavers -- names like Louise, Jim or Butch. It is a tactic to relieve the discomfort of knowing that before us lies a person who lived life as we do, felt jealousy and fear, and perhaps made art, wrote poetry, raised children and sacrificed for them, decorated Christmas trees, wrapped birthday presents, had been in love and in lust, had had a broken heart.
But beyond all of this, I had to combat another level of discomfort; Navajos do not touch the dead. Ever.
It is one of the strongest rules in our culture. The dead hold ch'iindis, or evil spirits, that are simply not to be tampered with. When a person dies, the "good" part of the person leaves with the spirit, while the "evil" part stays with the physical body. That belief is so strong that before the advent of mortuaries, Navajos sought out Pueblo Indians, missionaries, white traders or other outsiders to bury their dead. When a person dies in a hogan, the hogan is destroyed. Sometimes Navajo people nowadays bring their dying relatives to the hospital simply to prevent them from dying in their home. In many other cases hospitals are avoided. Navajo people know that death lies inside hospital walls, and therefore hospitals are filled with ch'iindis."
- "The Scalpel and the Silver Bear: The First Navajo Woman Surgeon Combines Western Medicine and Traditional Healing" by Lori Arviso, M.D., and Elizabeth Cohen Van Pelt
Excerpt from an excerpt from here.
I haven't read this book at all and I'm not trying to promote it. I just saw this excerpt and I thought it was rather fascinating given that I was looking up the Halachic considerations regarding dissections of Jewish cadavers. Could make you think.